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Part V: How to Get Started in Fly Casting

If you’ve followed TFO’s How to Get Started in Fly Fishing series, you have a rod, reel, fly line and leader from parts I, II, III and IV. Now you need to be able to cast.

You don’t need to be Lefty Kreh or Flip Pallot to catch fish, but you do need to be able to cast effectively. Freshwater is more forgiving. If you can cast 20 or 30 feet and maintain good line control, you can catch freshwater species consistently, particularly if you are willing to fish subsurface.

In saltwater, the game is more demanding because of wind and moving fish. The rule of thumb is 50 feet with only a couple false casts. You can catch fish on shorter casts than that, but you’ll also need to be cast farther.

Distance is just one factor. There’s speed, your ability to get the fly to the fish before the window of opportunity closes — and there is accuracy —- the ability to put the fly where it needs to be. Could be on the fish’s nose. Could be a few feet in front. It all depends on the angles involved and the speed of the fish in relation to the angler.

Since I’m not a casting instructor, I won’t go into the mechanics of learning to fly cast. Instead, I’ll wade into a few insights I learned along the way. And I’m still learning. Casting is akin to a good golf swing. It’s never perfect. It’s something that can be honed during a lifetime. You can always make it better. Below are a couple ideas that should help you do that.

Get Some Instruction

You don’t necessarily have to find a certified instructor. The important thing is to find someone you’re comfortable with who can teach. A lot of people can cast. Not everyone can teach. Teaching is a skill. Not everyone has the knowledge and patience to communicate. You don’t need to find the best caster. You need to find the best teacher —- for your needs and personality.

Lefty, who passed away last spring, was a fabulous teacher. So is Ed Jaworowski. Both TFO advisors produced The Complete Cast, an outstanding DVD. However at some point, you might need in-person, one-on-one instruction.

How do you find that? Go to seminars. Go to YouTube. Ask around at the fly shop. Then assess your personality and needs. Not everyone can teach beginners. Not everyone can teach intermediates or advanced casters. So assess yourself and abilities and try to find an instructor to match. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Use Video

Ten, 15 years ago video was cost prohibitive for any type of instruction. Now, thanks to technology, it’s not. Grab your cell phone or your point-and-shoot camera. Both devices should have decent video. Get someone to take footage of your casting. Then watch it. You’re probably not doing some things you should be and you’re probably making some mistakes you’re not aware of. The tape won’t lie. And after you look at, get your instructor to do so as well. Now you’ll have an idea of what to correct because you have a visual roadmap.

Casting hinges on timing. Ideally you will be able to feel the rod bend on the back cast, but in the beginning it’s difficult. TFO’s Accelerator can expedite the learning curve. It’s an auditory tool, which allows you to hear when to actually stop on your back cast and forward cast.

Practice

You can’t get better without it, and if you don’t practice, your skills will erode. Let’s assume you can’t get out on the water as regularly as you would like. In that case, your yard will do. Set up targets for accuracy. Crosswinds, tailwinds and headwinds are all available. Most back yards are not compatible for distance casting, but work with your available space. You can work on delivering a good back cast or go across your body. And if you’re really ambitious, cast with your non-dominant hand. The main thing is to develop repetition. After you’re done, it’s smart to clean your line. Grass can gunk it up easily, which is why I often use a retired fly line, although I still clean that to make it cast better.

The Low Elbow

I’m assuming you know the basics of the grip and have picked up a fly rod once or twice. If you’ve haven’t, that’s OK, here’s the bare-bones version. Grip the rod with the thumb on top of the cork and aligned with the guides. Your back cast should start low near the ground or water and end abruptly near your ear. Pause. Let the line straighten. Start the forward cast ending at roughly eye level before coming to a quick, complete stop, at least to start out.

If you can’t see your rod in your peripheral vision on the back cast, you might need to shorten your stroke. The easiest way to make sure you lock into these positions is to maintain a low elbow. As Lefty says, keep your elbow on a shelf. You keep your right elbow (if you’re right handed) at your side. Don’t raise it. Don’t let it flare. Pretend you can only use your forearm, hand and a bit of wrist. Essentially, you have a short lever. A short lever gives you more control. Why? It’s easier to maintain a straight line for the path of the rod and it’s easier to stop the rod.

Many anglers, once they reach the intermediate level, lengthen their cast for more distance. But, the longer the stroke the more that can go wrong. Think about it. It’s akin to a hitter in baseball. Big cuts can lead to home runs, but they also yield a lot of strikeouts. It’s the same thing with fly casting. You don’t need a big stroke for the majority of your fishing. If you want to win casting competitions, you need a big stroke with hard stops and a straight-line path, which is easier said than done.

None of the above information is rooted in absolutes. There are a lot of ways to cast. There are a lot of ways to learn. Find what works for you.

Keep it simple. It solves a lot of problems.

For more info on fly casting, check out this video from Mad River Outfitters.

 

Thoughts on fly casting? Struggling with you cast? Feel free to weigh on one of our social media pages.

How Beginners Can Get Started in Fly Fishing, Part 1: Simplify

Welcome to part one of TFO’s fly fishing for beginners. Starting today, our series will be divided into five weekly segments — an introduction followed by singular posts on rods, reels, lines/leaders and casting.

Let’s be honest. Fly Fishing, at least at its advanced levels, is not easy. It can be difficult for the beginner, but it doesn’t have to be. You can fish for tailing bonefish and permit on the gin-clear flats of the Bahamas, or, you can try your hand at bluegill on a farm pond with nothing more than a simple out-of-the box setup and a fistful of poppers.

The choice is entirely up to the angler.

A few thoughts on how the beginner can streamline the process:

Buy a Kit

When a beginner first goes into a fly shop, the array of lines, rods and leaders can be daunting. If you’re patient and persistent, you can go through the tedium of putting together a matching outfit. But why endure that stress?

Better yet, a buy a kit — with a rod, reel, line and leader already assembled. TFO has NXT kits (suggested retail: $199.95-$209.95), which are perfect for a youngster or adult beginner. You get a quality, affordable setup that’s ready to fish.

It’s a low-risk proposition. If you eventually fall in love with the sport, you can upgrade to a better rod and reel. On the other hand, if you simply want to dabble in fly fishing, the NXT kit will serve you well for years — and you won’t blow through a monthly mortgage payment, which is easily doable at your local fly shop.

Take a Class

Most fly shops offer classes. Mad River Outfitters in Columbus, Ohio offers outstanding instruction. Most shops offer free weekend casting lessons, and it’s worth your time to invest a few hours with a knowledgeable teacher.

Internet instruction is an option. The only problem with that approach is that the quality of the information varies. Some is good. Most of it is bad and there’s no gatekeeper to sort through the volume of misguided info.

The next best option is to buy a DVD from a reputable source. TFO’s Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski teamed for The Complete Cast, which is a comprehensive look at fly casting. It’s a little advanced for the pure novice, but a good investment for the intermediate angler.

Hire a Guide

One of the hardest things about learning to fly fish is knowing where the fish are, when they’re going to be there and why. And then you have to be skilled enough to put the fly where it needs to be. A good guide can help you sort through the obstacles. And trust me, there will be plenty.

When I first started fly fishing 30-something years ago, I was immediately hooked. I went out and bought a handmade fly rod for $350, which translates to nearly $800 in today’s economic climate. And, I had no idea how to cast or how to find fish.

Sheer perseverance yielded a few trout, but fortunately I found a friend who was not only skilled but helpful. In retrospect, I should have spent less money on my first rod and invested in a guide. You, as a beginner, should do the same.

 Set Realistic Expectations

I learned to fly fish on a spring creek. Of course, I was seduced by the visions of big brown trout sipping sulphurs at dusk. I eventually bagged my share of browns, but not before I honed my skills on a more forgiving species — the brook trout of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have simplified even further — with bass and bluegill on the local farm ponds. You don’t need a guide. You don’t need waders. If you can toss a popper a few feet, you have a good chance of landing a fish or two. From there, your confidence will grow — along with your skill level.

 Enjoy the Journey

When I first started fishing, I used to take a few fish home, not because I was against catch-and-release — actually I was in favor of it —- but because I needed proof. I needed validation that I could actually catch something with a limber rod, a rubbery line and a tuft of fur and feathers. I’m not sure if I was insecure or trying to prove to my wife at the time that I was being productive. Beats doing yardwork, right?

As I’ve grown older, I no longer measure fishing or hunting success by empirical output. If I’m still learning, that’s good enough for me. Fly fishing offers infinite possibilities — saltwater, freshwater, big fish, little fish, stocked fish, wild fish. All can be sampled close to home or abroad. You can tie your own world-class flies ala TFO’s Blane Chocklett. You can row a drift boat or pole a skiff. Or you can simply fish from the bank.

That’s the beauty of fly fishing. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. The choice is yours.

Below is a video from Mad River Outfitters that provides additional insight on the simplicity of fly fishing. Additional thoughts or comments on how to make fly fishing more user-friendly for beginners? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

 

 

Lefty Kreh Honored for a Lifetime of Influence

Lefty is No. 1.

So says the editorial staff of Fly Fisherman Magazine, which compiled a list of the 50 most influential anglers of the past five decades and placed TFO’s Bernard ‘Lefty’ Kreh at the top of the heap.

“Absolutely, he deserves to be No. 1 on that list,” fellow TFO advisor Rob Fordyce said. “I never saw Lefty seek (that type of attention). He was a very humble guy. He was Lefty being Lefty enjoying teaching women and children to fly fish for the most part as well as tens of thousands of others. I think it was deserving, but I don’t think he would have (cared) about it.”

Kreh, a long-time TFO advisor until his passing last spring, was followed by Joe Brooks, John Voelker, Tom Rosenbauer, Lee and Joan Wulff, Dave Whitlock, Cathy & Barry Beck,  John Randolph, Nick Lyons and Ernest Schwiebert to round out the top ten. However, fly-fishing’s premier ambassador would have bristled at the notion of such a pecking order.

“I think Lefty would have, first of all, resented the list,” said TFO advisor Flip Pallot, who was a close friend of Kreh’s. “It was a silly endeavor. All you had to do was look at that list to know how silly it was. Lefty was the guy who didn’t want to be in the IGFA Hall of Fame, who didn’t want anyone to do anything special for him. I think that list would have gotten a laugh and chuckle out of him, and he would have kept right on going.”

Pallot, for what it’s worth, cracked the list at No. 16. The popular host of Walker’s Cay Chronicles said he found out about the honor from a congratulatory text message.

“I had no idea, so I forgot about it,” Pallot said. “Then someone else said something. I knew there had to be a list somewhere. I proudly followed in Lefty’s footsteps and ignored the list. Lefty was very fond of saying that a piece of paper will sit there and let you write anything you want to on it. It was someone who made a list, and that was that.”

For the record, TFO placed two other anglers on the top 50, fly tyer/guide Blane Chocklett (27), who invented the Game Changer fly; and noted fly-casting author/instructor Ed Jaworowski (39), who teamed up with Kreh to produce The Complete Cast, now available through TFO. Chocklett and Jaworowski are members of TFO’s national advisory staff.

“I think it’s cool,” TFO chairman Rick Pope said. “But, I didn’t need that list to tell me the (TFO) people on the list are more than worthy. All our Advisory Staff share certain personality qualities — humility, a desire to teach and, needless to say, pride in their knowledge and ability with a fly rod.  Lefty exhibited the best of these traits, and I’m sure that most all named would feel the same as Flip and Rob.”

Anytime a list is compiled that honors the elite of any profession, someone will be slighted. The most obvious omission: TFO’s Bob Clouser, the inventor of the Clouser Minnow.

“For them to miss Bob Clouser tells you how well vetted (the list) was,” Pope said. “I think the Clouser Minnow is the most widely fished fly in the universe.”

Best-of lists are not always journalistically bulletproof, but one thing’s for sure, they create controversy and, in turn, attention.

Thoughts on Fly Fisherman’s list? Let us know what your opinions on one of our social media pages.